Demand for pet-friendly travel, facilities growing amid pandemic

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A passenger and her dog sit on a Hokuriku Shinkansen train on May 21.

NASUSHIOBARA, Tochigi — An increasing number of tourists are starting to travel with their animal companions as more people decided to get a pet as a result of spending long hours at home amid the pandemic. There is also a growing movement to increase the number of services that cater to dogs, such as accommodation facilities where visitors can enjoy meals and hot springs with their beloved pets.

On May 16, guests at the Pet & Spa Hotel Nasu Wan in Nasu, Tochigi Prefecture, enjoyed dinner at the hotel’s restaurant with their dogs. The pet-friendly hotel has 14 rooms and includes both indoor and outdoor dog parks. Guests can also enjoy natural hot springs with their dogs if they reserve a private bath.

The hotel reported its highest sales in fiscal 2021, which was 24% higher than before the pandemic in fiscal 2019, since it opened in 2011.

“I’m happy that the employees think of the dogs first,” said a 33-year-old woman from Saitama Prefecture.

In 2014, businesses in the tourism industry in the Nasu area launched the Wanko Net Nasu association. It created a map showing the more than 60 restaurants and leisure facilities where people could go with their dogs or cats.

“We want to promote Nasu as a pet-friendly tourist destination,” said the association’s Chairman Koichi Morimura.

According to a 2020 survey by the Japan Pet Food Association in Tokyo, the number of newly acquired pet dogs increased 18% compared to the previous year to approximately 416,000, and the number of such pet cats grew 16% to about 460,000.

The number of pet dogs and cats is estimated to exceed 16 million nationwide in 2021.

As demand from foreign tourists has plummeted, an increasing number of facilities are working to attract visitors with pets., which introduces pet-friendly accommodation facilities, has added 30 to 50 such places every year since 2018. The site now lists more than 800 facilities.

“Recently, more of these [pet-friendly] places are popping up in the Kansai region, including Awaji Island and near Lake Biwa,” said Uichiro Fujino, president of Grand Paw, the company operating the website.

Railway companies are showing an interest as well. On May 21, an affiliate of East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) and other firms held a demonstration, which allowed people to travel from Ueno Station in Tokyo to Karuizawa Station in Nagano Prefecture on the Hokuriku Shinkansen line with their dogs.

Although pets are generally not allowed out of their cages on Shinkansen trains, the passengers were able to enjoy the trip with their four-legged friends on their laps.

“The market for pet-friendly travel services is expected to increase with more demand,” said Prof. Katsuhiko Shoji of Toyo University who studies pet-friendly tourism. “Those who provide these services need to acquire the knowledge to properly care for the pets and improve the quality of their services.”